The Superior Side of Eger Evolves
Hungary’s northeastern wine region of Eger is one of those areas that in the past has so often flattered to deceive, but it is fast getting its act together with fine wines becoming the norm and not the exception. In fact, some of the wine is getting very good indeed.
György Lőrincz Jr. with his first red wine, a Bikavér.
Nagy-Eged hegy, home to Hungary’s highest vineyard, rises dramatically above the baroque beauty that is the town of Eger. This imposing hill, composed of pure limestone, is surrounded otherwise by a layer of volcanic tuff under brown forest topsoil, and the wines from the hill are both prized and consequently priced highly.
One relative bargain from Nagy-Eged dűlő is the distinctively made Egri Bikavér Grand Superior Nagy-Eged 2015 from the Thummerer Winery. Nagy-Eged dűlő is a south-facing vineyard lying on the middle of Nagy-Eged Hill where there is some topsoil that holds much needed water reserves, according to Thummerer winemaker József Lamport.
This wine is a field blend of Cabernet Franc, Kadarka, Kékfrankos, Merlot and Syrah (all planted in 2008), which means that the grapes of these different grape varieties were picked at the same time and fermented together, as opposed to the more usual practice of vinifying separately and blending after the wines are aged individually in oak barrels.
The grapes apparently ripened at more or less the same time and the idea is that a little under ripeness here can be compensated for a tad of over ripeness there.
In this case, the method works brilliantly in capturing the character of the vineyard without putting the emphasis on the individual grapes. It has really appealing aromas of potpourri and very vibrant red and black fruit that continue on the lively, juicy and long palate with its nicely restrained tannins and zesty acidity.
It was aged in third-fill Hungarian oak barrels for 27 months and the oak use is spot on with a touch of chocolate-vanilla richness rounding the wine off smoothly.
This medium plus bodied wine is perfectly balanced and the alcohol hits the scales at a very welcome 13.5% – on the low side for such a concentrated wine made from very low yields. The yield for Grand Superior must not exceed 60 hectoliters/hectare, and the hills yields much lower than that.
Lamport, who works closely in tandem with winery founder Vilmos Thummerer, says that the acidity from the limestone is less of that sour malic acidity and more of the milder tartaric acid, which helps to retain the vibrant fruitiness in the final wine.
This vintage, which has already claimed a Silver medal at Vinalies Internationales 2018, held in Paris, and a Gold medal at the Eger Wine Region Wine Competition 2018, is a bargain at HUF 4,990 from Thummerer’s webshop. The cavernous cellar itself, carved out of volcanic tuff, is a delight to visit. This is an impressive winery that often flies under the radar, and concentrates more on making wine than on marketing.
St. Andrea has long turned out some of Eger’s most elegant wines under the expert hand of György Lőrincz. Lőrincz, who in his early 50s still cuts a relatively youthful figure replete with a fine beard that many a hipster would be proud of, is handing over increasing responsibility to his son György Lőrincz Jr.
The younger Gyuri has already made his own white wines under the St Andrea name, and his first red-effort (Axios, a Bikavér) is soon to hit the shelves. In tandem, the winery is launching the Ifj. Lőrincz György – Private Selection, which comprises Egyetlen (a dry white blend), Axios and Ajándék (a very well-crafted botrytized sweet wine).
“I’m not thinking of a huge change; I grew up with my father and I have similar views on winemaking. I will try to emphasize what is special about individual vintages,” said Lőrincz the younger. “Without tradition, there is no life; I believe in blends that are traditional. I wanted to make a Bikavér as my first red.”
Axios will cost HUF 14,500 from the winery from April 1, and it will also be available from St. Andrea’s eponymously named Budapest restaurant. Lőrincz Jr. says he found making the red more of a challenge than white, having gained experience abroad working in white wine regions in Austria and New Zealand, as well as in Tokaj (for the legendary István Szepsy; it is no surprise that the sweet Ajándék is so accomplished).
However, the proof is in the pudding and the Axios Egri Bikavér Grand Superior 2016, a blend of Kékfrankos, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Syrah, harvested between September 16 and October 13, is a fine opening effort. For Lőrincz Jr., Kékfrankos is the most important grape and gives the backbone, and Nagy-Eged is the top vineyard for Bikavér. “Nagy-Eged stands out, it cannot be compared,” he says.
Axios has intense, silky aromas of sour cherry and dark chocolate, while it is concentrated with lively fruitiness, complemented by complex herbal notes on the long palate. It carries its high alcohol content of 15.3% well, without there being much in the way of burn. It was aged for 17 months in oak barrels.
The grapes for this wine come from Nagy-Eged-hegy (higher up than Nagy-Eged dűlő) where the topsoil fades away and gives way to total limestone), from Nagy-Eged dűlő itself, and the Hangács vineyard; the latter has nothing to do with limestone, yet it is the source of one of the most consistent and expressive Bikavérs of all, which has a strong sense of place.
Incidentally, the 2016 version of St. Andrea’s Hangács Bikavér Superior (HUF 5,800 from Bortársaság), which comes from Demjén is already in fine fettle, and has an attractive spicy and peppery quality to go with the plentiful fruit.
Meanwhile, the winery’s Merengő Grand Superior 2016 (not a single vineyard wine) is taking shape. This Grand Superior always needs time in the bottle to settle down and reveal its undoubtedly beautiful face (especially since Kékfrankos became the core grape) and the 2016 is no exception but all the components are there (HUF 7,950 from Bortársaság).
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